Maryland lawmakers heard testimonies for a bill that would require the state to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 and address several environmental justice issues during a virtual committee hearing Thursday.
Most people said the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021 is a significant step up in the state’s efforts to combat climate change and a long-overdue acknowledgment of its disproportionate effects on Black and brown communities. University of Maryland faculty involved in climate change and environmental justice efforts also voiced their approval but cautioned that more action would need to be taken, even if the legislation was passed.
Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County), the bill’s lead sponsor, began his testimony by showing a photo of the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Memorial in downtown Annapolis partly underneath flood waters in 2012.
“The picture in front of you shouldn’t be a shock,” Pinsky told the other members of the education, health and environmental affairs committee. “[It’s] partway underwater — our own capital.”
An increase in nuisance flooding, which refers to flooding that usually isn’t dangerous, is just one radical consequence of global warming that highlights the pressing need for state action, Pinsky said. Sea level rise is carrying ruinous saltwater deeper into farmland on the Eastern Shore. Hurricanes are occurring more often and with greater intensity. On the other side of the country, California experienced a year of record-breaking wildfires.
Given what science says of dire threats further down the road, urgent action is needed, Pinsky said. To that end, the legislation would have the state attack climate change on multiple fronts.
These include a mandate for the state to achieve greenhouse gas emissions 60 percent below 2006 levels by the year 2030; reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045; electrify state-owned vehicles by 2030; and implement regulations for new buildings to be built under more strict energy use standards.
It was the bill’s provisions relating to environmental justice that drew Sacoby Wilson, the director of the Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health Lab at this university’s public health school, to the hearing.
“I think this bill is a good start to do some work that should have been done some years ago,” Wilson said.
The bill promises that at least 10 percent of 5 million trees that would be planted under the legislation would go in “underserved” communities — urban areas with higher rates of unemployment and lower household incomes. Many underserved communities deal with extraordinary heat spikes in the summer due in part to a lack of adequate tree cover.
The bill tasks the state’s environmental justice commission with reaching out to communities that suffer disproportionately from climate change’s effects, and recommending ways to address those communities’ concerns.
Carbon emissions and other forms of pollution tend to come together, so addressing one addresses the other. That makes a big difference to people of color in underserved communities who are already dealing with issues including structural poverty, and are more likely to have health conditions that leave them more vulnerable to pollution. Many toxin-belching facilities are in these communities, Wilson said, calling it “a state-sanctioned form of poisoning and a state-sanctioned form of violence.”
“This bill can go a long ways as a foundation in providing restorative justice,” Wilson said.
The bill also has an eye on what may prove to be a rocky economic future for many Marylanders as fossil fuel-related industries shed jobs. It would create a working group that would make recommendations to the Maryland Commission on Climate Change on how to ensure a “just transition” for workers.
Kavita Surana, an assistant research professor at the center for global sustainability at this university, said it was important for the state to complement its emission reduction goals — which she hailed as “quite strong” — with support for jobs in energy innovation.
“Most of the energy and efficiency technologies are probably developed elsewhere and deployed in Maryland,” she said. “If you also want economic benefits, you have to have some specific mechanisms to support the local economy.”